Chris Hickford, founder and chief executive of Surrey-based The Eikon Charity, has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list in recognition of 35 years of service to children and young people.
Chris has dedicated his life to children and young people since his first volunteer youth work role in the mid-1980s.
His first full-time paid youth work role was as Youth Minister at the Heathervale Baptist Church in New Haw, Surrey in 1992. The pastor recalls that Chris had:
“an engaging personality and an excellent track record of relating to and empathising with young people, particularly those in crisis”.
In 1995 when working as a youth worker, Chris met a 13-year-old boy whose father had very recently committed suicide. Chris tried desperately to find appropriate support and services for him, but because he wasn’t at immediate risk, he wasn’t deemed a priority and had to join a waiting list. While waiting for help, his life deteriorated, and the trauma he had experienced began to take hold, destroying his wellbeing with each passing day. The despair he felt became deeper and darker.
In response that same year Chris established The New Haw Youth Project as a registered charity, based initially in a “converted broom cupboard” in Fullbrook School. Today The Eikon Charity has an income of £2.5m and has over 100 staff and volunteers.
“I feel very honoured to have been awarded an MBE, but I feel a bit of an imposter. So many people have contributed to Eikon’s success over the 27 years, each of them bringing expertise and dedication, or donating so generously, and it’s important that they are recognised in this award. I want to thank all the trustees of Eikon over the years, and the five Chairs of Trustees who have invested in me and taught me so much. And I want to thank my wife Clare and my children Emily & Archie for their support and sacrifices. This is why I feel an imposter as none of what has been achieved would have been possible without them.
“Motivated by my Christian faith, when starting Eikon in 1995 all I ever set out to do was to make sure children and young people had someone to turn to when life was tough. Often their circumstances were unimaginably tough and utterly heart breaking, yet with our support to build their strength and resilience, they so often come through the other side. They are the ones who most deserve an award, and it has been a privilege to know them and witness their achievements.
“The work of Eikon has never been more important. So many children and young people need support, and the last two years of the pandemic have made things worse. All of us at Eikon will continue to do all we can to provide a safe and loving environment of support that enables them to thrive.”
Chair of the board of trustees, Nigel Goddard says:
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we are absolutely delighted that Chris has been awarded this honour, so thoroughly deserved after dedicating his adult life from humble beginnings as a solitary youth worker, to founding, developing and leading one of Surrey’s largest charities supporting vulnerable children and young people.
“If we had to describe Chris in two words they would be “selfless” and “inspirational”. He has the passion, vision, and an innate desire to inspire and improve the lives of everyone with whom he comes into contact, especially those of children and young people in need. It is an honour for us as the Board of Trustees, not only to be associated with Eikon, but also to support Chris and the senior leadership team in every way that we can.”
The Eikon Story, as told by Chris
Tom walked home from school with his friends as usual, he said goodbye to them as they reached his house. He opened his front door and stumbled across his Dad hanging from the ceiling. Tom did everything right, he immediately cut the rope to get Dad down, he called an ambulance and he administered CPR until they arrived. All very impressive for a 13 year old, there was nothing more he could have done, his Dad had died some hours earlier. When Tom asked for help, he was put on a waiting list for a service. He was told that there were many others ahead of him in the queue with bigger problems and support would not be available for many months. Tom’s life deteriorated without the help he needed, the trauma he had experienced began to take hold, destroying his wellbeing with each passing day. The despair he felt became deeper and darker. He continued to wait for help, he felt alone, it was as if he didn’t matter, that no-one cared.
This was 26 years ago when Eikon was founded as a charity, Tom was one of the first young people we worked with. At the time we were surprised by a system that seemed to be set up to make children and young people wait. I remember being told that if Tom was offending, in care, using drugs or suicidal that he could get help quicker, and thinking that if we wait any longer he’ll be all of those things. Despite campaigning for early intervention since we began as an organisation, the situation has not improved, things may have even got worse. Demand for emotional wellbeing and mental health support for young people is higher than ever. Young people can wait 18 months or more for support. This is at a time when the UK faces a mental health crisis of epic proportions. The impact of the pandemic on young people’s wellbeing has provoked a pervasive sense of loss, isolation and uncertainty that fuels feelings of anxiety, depression and despair like never before. If nothing changes, the human and economic costs will be formidable.
Today Eikon’s mission has never been more relevant. We find ourselves 25 years on transformed from being one youth worker, working part time in a school, to a successful charity with the ability to reach thousands of young people across the 5th largest county in England. We’ve merged with other organisations with shared values, we’ve won significant contracts to deliver public services and we have attracted donations that allow us to create more social benefit.
Thanks to the amazing efforts of our staff, volunteers, trustees and partners, today we are helping many more young people including those like Tom and are rightly proud of the huge impact we know we have on young lives. After a quarter of a century, being bigger and better is not enough. We are still part of a public sector system that in too many instances, doesn’t work well for young people. We know we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done and expect different results. We also know we can’t do it on our own. We are part of a social and public sector system that has to change collaboratively, if it is going to change at all.
Notes to Editors
When this charity was set up we looked for a name that represented what we’re about. The word eikon (pronounced icon) comes from the Greek, meaning an image or picture; our hope was that we could help young people imagine a better future, unburdened by anxiety – that we could help them re-imagine what is possible and be well. We’ve not given up on that hope.
Media Contact Information
The Eikon Charity, Selsdon Road, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 3HP
Registered in England Charity No 1109190; Company No 5402398.